Fact. The best snooker is played on the best playing surface. But which snooker cloth is best? There are five things to consider when it comes to playing on a cloth that will help you get the best out of your game.
Understanding which snooker cloth is best: table of contents
- What is snooker cloth made of?
- So, which snooker cloth is best?
- How much does the best snooker cloth cost?
- How does the cloth affect your game?
- How to care for snooker cloth.
1. What is snooker cloth made of?
“Let’s get the boys on the baize!” Snooker lovers everywhere will be familiar with BBC presenter, Rob Walker’s catchphrase, but is baize really the right word to describe the cloth snooker is played on today? Well, yes, although there’s more to it than that. According to Wikipedia, baize is a “coarse woollen (or in cheaper variants cotton) cloth, similar in texture to felt, but more durable”. If you’ve played on a good cloth, you’ll know that it’s far from coarse. There’s a reason for that.
Snooker cloths are made of wool, as are the cloths used for pool tables. However, that’s where the similarity often ends because pool table baize is coarser and frequently made without a noticeable nap. Run your fingers over the cloth on a snooker table and you will immediately feel the direction of the fibres (they should always run towards the black spot, by the way). That’s what nap means. Snooker table baize is described as “nappy baize”. It is noticeably smoother in one direction because of the way the fibres are laid.
2. So, which snooker cloth is best?
Wool is graded according to the thickness of its fibres. Generally speaking, the thinner the fibres, the higher the quality of the wool. Merino wool has long been a favourite choice for clothing manufacturers because of its softness and durability. It is usually less than 24 microns in diameter and comes in five grades: strong, medium, fine, superfine and ultrafine. If you know much about snooker, there’s a good chance you’ll have heard of “superfine” because that is one of the sub-brands used by the famous cloth manufacturer, Strachan.
That’s why the best snooker cloths are made of merino wool. Even a strong merino cloth will be smoother and faster than a cloth made from lower grade wool. Within the Strachan assortment there are five grades of cloth. Most club tables will be fitted with the basic 6811 club cloth because of its value for money. Some clubs may have match tables fitted with Strachan Superfine cloth and all ranking professional match tables are fitted with Strachan No. 10 Championship cloth. To make an educated guess, we would say that No. 10 is probably made from ultrafine Merino wool.
Therefore, the answer to the question “which snooker cloth is best?” is clearly Strachan No. 10 Championship cloth. At Surrey Snooker Academy our vision is to bring club snooker into the 21st century, so all of our heated snooker tables are fitted with No. 10 Championship cloth. Here’s what the 2016 Northern Ireland Open winner Mark King tweeted after making his first exhibition 147 at our club: “Awesome venue for exhibitions. Table was best I’ve played on with new no. 10 cloth and heated. You can’t get better imho.”
3. How much does the best snooker cloth cost?
As always, the answer to this kind of question needs to be prefaced with “that depends…” At the time of writing, a brand-new Strachan No. 10 Championship Cloth for a 12′ table costs in the region of £800. A used cloth would cost around £250. Used cloth can be a perfectly acceptable choice if you can be sure that it is genuinely an ex-tournament cloth that has only been played on a few times. If not, buying used is probably a false economy since it would have to be replaced far sooner (see section 6).
The prices above are for cloth to cover the bed only, but what about the cushions? They are also covered in cloth. There are two approaches to consider here. For an extra £50 you could purchase a small amount of lower-grade 6811 cloth for the cushions. Alternatively, you can use the old cloth you are replacing. Bear in mind that either choice will affect how the balls react in a different way, as explained in the next section.
4. How does the cloth affect your game
Snooker is a game about energy. Specifically, it’s about transferring energy from the player to the cue ball and object ball, via the cue, in the most efficient possible way. A cheap, coarse cloth will adversely affect the efficiency of your game by increasing the amount of friction between the balls and the surface of the table. Simply put, to get the balls to do what you want them to do, you need to hit them harder. Unless you’re a very accomplished player, more power usually reduces accuracy. More friction equals more drag. Balls will slow down and deviate off course more easily on a cheap cloth. A pack will not split open well on a coarse low-grade cloth.
Of course, the reverse is true of a high-quality cloth like Strachan Superfine or No. 10 Championship cloth. When playing on superior cloths like these, you will find that the table plays much faster and you will be able to play shots with more finesse. The smoothness of a high-quality cloth is made even more pronounced when the table’s slates are heated. Heated slates expand microscopically and stretch the cloth slightly tauter over the surface. You can read more in our blog on how heated tables help improve your game.
Beware of one particular effect, whatever the quality of the cloth. On slow shots the cloth will pull the ball in the direction of the nap. The effect is stronger on a cheap cloth but will still kick in, even on a No. 10 Championship cloth, as this video taken in Surrey Snooker Academy shows. Watch how the nap draws the cue ball towards the black end of the table, causing it to strike the object ball too thinly and miss the pot. Experienced players know to aim a little thick when playing slow rolls across the nap.
Another effect that players have to compensate for is “cushion slide”. If a high-quality cloth is used to cover the cushions, the smoother surface will cause the balls to rebound at a shallower angle. Effectively, the ball that hits the cushion slides along it very slightly before it bounces back. This can be challenging for players, especially when they are using the cushion to escape from a snooker, since the cushion needs to be struck earlier than expected. It is best to use coarser cloth on the cushions because it grips the ball more and provides a truer reaction. Professional tables usually have Strachan 6811 cloth on the cushions.
Another word of caution – sometimes a club may attempt to avoid the cost of a re-cloth by trying to re-stretch their worn-out cloth. This makes the balls run faster but does nothing to restore the fabric. In our view, cost-cutting always leads to a poorer playing experience.
5. How to care for snooker cloth
A well looked-after cloth will play better for longer than one that has been neglected. After every session a table should be swept with a soft bristle brush in the direction of the nap to remove any particles of chalk or dust. Brushing should also follow the nap of the cushion at the ends of the table. Then it should be blocked. “Blocking” refers to the process of smoothing the fibres in the direction of the nap with a piece of good quality baize affixed to a wooden block. This is done in a series of smooth, firm sweeps and resets the table ready for ironing.
One pro-tip that not many clubs are aware of is that you can achieve an even cleaner surface if you wrap a moist tea-towel around your block and pass it once over the cloth. This will collect even the very smallest flecks of dust and make the surface better for ironing.
A snooker iron is specially made to fit under the cushion rails. They are usually referred to as Dowsing irons (an old British brand name). In the best clubs, table ironing is a daily occurrence. The iron is set to a high heat and, when ready, the surface is smoothed at walking pace in the direction of the nap. The cushions should never be ironed as the rubber would be damaged. It is good practice to iron in overlapping diagonal sweeps to avoid a striped finish and only ever iron after brushing and blocking. If the table hasn’t been cleaned there is a risk that marks will be ironed into the surface.
Finally, the wood of the table can be wiped clean of finger-marks with a clean, damp cloth and, if exposed to daylight, the table should be covered at the end of the day.
Snooker tables should be reclothed when they begin to display signs of wear and tear. Of course, the frequency of this depends on the amount of play they have been subjected to. High quality cloth such as the No. 10 Championship cloth isn’t as robust as the lower quality cloth used on high traffic tables. We re-cloth our tables approximately every six months and are very happy to recommend the first-class service provided by Keith Davis who has looked after our tables since we opened.
These five important topics should have helped you understand which snooker cloth is best. Armed with that knowledge you can find a table to play on that will help you get the best out of your game.